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The written notation of pibroch serves mainly as a rough guide for the piper.
The expression of the rhythms and tempos of the pibroch tune are primarily acquired from an experienced teacher and applied through interpretive performance practice.
The theme is usually a very simple melody, though few if any pibroch contain the theme in its simplest form.
The theme is first stated in a slow movement called the ground or in Gaelic the ùrlar.
The Gaelic names of these type movements are: leumluath, taorluath, and crùnluath.
In almost all pibroch in which these later movements are found, the variations are played first as a singling and then as a doubling and with a slightly increased tempo.
In some cases the name and subject matter of pibroch tunes appears to have been reassigned by-19th century editors such as Angus Mac Kay, whose book A Collection of Ancient Piobaireachd or Highland Pipe Music (1838) included historically fanciful and romantic pibroch source stories by antiquarian James Logan.
A compilation of the structure of many pibroch tunes, including related historical essays, was written by A. Many pibroch tunes have intriguing names such as "Too Long in This Condition", "The Piper's Warning to His Master", "Scarce of Fishing", "The Unjust Incarceration" and "The Big Spree" which suggest specific narrative events or possible song lyric sources.Mac Kay's translated English titles became the commonly accepted modern pibroch names, sanctioned by subsequent Piobaireachd Society editors.Roderick Cannon has compiled a dictionary of the Gaelic names of pibroch from early manuscripts and printed sources, detailing inconsistencies, difficulties in translation, variant names, accurate translations and verifiable historically documented attributions and dates in the few cases where this is possible.Related Ceòl Mór genres were historically also played on the fiddle and on the wire-strung Gaelic harp or clarsach. However, pibroch in its current form was developed on the Great Highland Bagpipe, with most of the extant pibroch tunes being adapted to or written specifically for the GHB, and as a result the musical form is influenced by features and limitations of that instrument.In musical structure, pibroch is a theme with variations.